Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Yes, Nova Scotia, Change is Possible
Today I witnessed the possibilities of a municipal council. Twelve year old Stella Bowles has been tirelessly advocating to fix the problem of straight pipes dumping raw sewage directly into the LaHave River. It is an issue which politicians have successfully ignored since 1993. It took a child to motivate the grown ups into action. Fortunately, the grown ups on this council did the right thing. All but one councillor voted to apply for the Build Canada fund, which will divide the cost of this project equally between the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.
I know that this event is being reported on by all local and probably national news outlets, but I find that the media and council minutes often miss some of the good stuff, so, here's what I have to add to the story.
I have only ever attended Lunenburg Town Council meetings and it was good to see how things are done elsewhere. Mayor Downe called the meeting to order with a moment of silence for the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando. I have been impressed by small rural councils like Shelburne and Queens county that have hung their flags at half mast, in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. An important reminder that small of size does not have to mean small of mind.
I had also never witnessed councillors dressed in business attire. I have to admit that I liked it. It signified respect for the duties at hand. Every councillor had a microphone that worked and it really is so much easier to listen to a conversation when you can hear the conversation.
Mark Furey, the MLA for Lunenburg West and also a cabinet minister addressed council. He was the only provincial politician present and as I have said many times, the man is a class act. I do, however, wish that councils would figure out how to have those addressing council not have their backs to the audience. It's unwelcoming, unengaging and easily fixable. I also wish there had been politicians from other municipalities present. The Lahave River matters to all of Lunenburg county.
Alex Dumaresq, The deputy CAO gave a very long presentation that was beyond thorough. I will note here that it was also refreshing to be able to see the presentation. One councillor practically roasted Mr. Dumaresq with the praise of his good work and noted to Mayor Downe that Mr. Dumaresq does not have a contract and should be given one to ensure that he stays on till 2031. Mayor Downe responded by saying that Mr. Dumaresq probably wishes right now that there was a straight pipe from his chair and that the deputy CAO can stay on as long as he wishes.
Then began the many, many, many, many statements from councillors. It was good to hear from all of them, but there is beauty in brevity. Once said is plenty. The one nay vote came from Councillor Ernst. He had some interesting things to say. His objection that this solution does not include those who have existing, yet poorly functioning septic systems was shared by other councillors. He made some comments regarding his concerns that there is no science explaining why the fecal bacterial levels are higher at Ship Yards landing and Day Spring. When he had finished speaking, Mayor Downe respectfully stated that the science has been discussed before. Councillor Ernst also spoke of his concern that the province does not have legislation which requires homes to have a functioning septic system when the property is sold. There were other councillors that expressed frustration with a lack of provincial regulation.
All these questions were addressed by the deputy CAO and what was clear was that while this solution is not perfect, it's possible and that seems to be the way of progress. Sometimes you just gotta compromise. We would like to imagine that change comes with a grand sweeping hand, but really it comes one tiny bylaw and grant application at a time and it's everybody's responsibility to just keep trying to make things better.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Downe addressed the children in the room. (I made the boy put his book down) He told them that they have witnessed democracy in action and that the lesson to take home is that with persistent trying, patience and respect, change can happen.
I'd be lying if I said that my son volunteered to attend this meeting with me and two hours into it, I was getting some pretty dirty looks, but later he told me how he told our neighbours how Stella won. So glad that my son, and myself had the opportunity to be a part of democracy.
Here's a photo from the council chambers.